DECEMBER 2002: SISTER GERTRUDE (TRUDY) O'CONNOR
At a time when many sisters have left the active pursuit of nursing, Sister Gertrude O’Connor continues to work in the Surgical Department at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. A ministry in surgical nursing allows her to be with patients at a very sensitive and special time during hospitalization.
Sister Gertrude was born in a rural area near O’Fallon, Illinois on January 4, 1939. She is the oldest of nine children in a family with Irish, German, French and Italian heritage. When she was about eight years old, her parents moved from O’Fallon to an 82-acre farm in the area. This contributed to her love of the land, animals and all creation.
Motherhouse Visits Lead To Community Life
As a youngster she would come to Springfield to the Franciscan Motherhouse to visit her aunt, Sister Joyce Gerardi. Since Sister Joyce was hospitalized with tuberculosis and there were strict visiting restrictions, Gertrude could only wave to her aunt from the lawn. When Gertrude was teased about being an "old maid" like a couple of her aunts, she would quickly respond that she would either "go the convent or get married."
When the time came to select a high school, Gertrude knew that she wanted to attend the high school at the Motherhouse in Springfield. When she visited there, she was struck by the light-hearted camaraderie among the girls and their spirit of prayer. It took some work to convince her parents to allow her to leave home and attend high school in Springfield; persistence paid off, however, and eventually she was allowed to attend St. Francis High School. After completing three years of high school, Gertrude knew that her call in life was to be a member of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.
On September 8, 1956, Gertrude entered the Community. She completed her high school education as a postulant while beginning her religious formation at the same time. Soon after earning her high school diploma, she became a novice and focused all of her attention on learning about religious life.
FINDING A "HOME" IN NURSING MINISTRY
Following her first profession of vows, Sister Gertrude began formal education at St. John’s School of Nursing. During her rotation through surgery, she felt that she had found a "home" in nursing. Her skills and the needs of the area were well matched. However, following graduation from St. John’s School of Nursing in 1963, Sister spent three years in medical-surgical nursing at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, Illinois. While it was not her choice at the time, Sister Gertrude thinks that those years provided her with an excellent foundation for all the work that would follow in her nursing career.
She then attended Marillac College in St. Louis, Missouri and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in 1971. Following a short assignment at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Sister served as a faculty member at St. John’s School of Nursing in Springfield, Illinois teaching surgery to the nursing students for eleven years.
SERVICE AT HOME
Then the leadership of the Province approached Sister Gertrude and asked her to become the supervisor of Loretto Home. This is the area of the Motherhouse where the elderly Sisters receive care in their final years. This ministry lasted for four years. Then Sister Gertrude again entered the educational arena and earned a Master’s Degree in Nursing from Rush University in Chicago, Illinois.
For the past 14 years, Sister has been the Clinical Nurse Specialist for Surgery at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. In this role that she calls "my dream job," Sister has the opportunity to work with nursing and anesthesia staff, medical and nursing students as well as maintain contact with the patients. In April 2002, Sister received the AORN Outstanding Achievement in Perioperative Clinical Nurse Education Award. One of the noted accomplishments that led to this honor was Sister serving as a role model, inspiring colleagues to improve the quality of patient care.
In her spare time, Sister is involved with a local parish as a Eucharistic Minister and lector and with Habitat for Humanity endeavors for the parish. She lives in Springfield with another Sister where she continues to enjoy the gifts of God that are manifested throughout their neighborhood. When the opportunity presents itself, Sister visits the Motherhouse for prayer, meals, and visiting with the other Sisters. She feels that God has blessed her in a special way by bringing her to a life with the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.